Road traffic penalties

This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 35.

The Home Office and DETR have recently conducted a consultation about changes in the penalties for Road Traffic Offences. This, together with some of the proposed changes to speeding and parking law, should lead to greater compliance with the law. Compliance can be defined as the percentage of people who obey the particular law. For example, one-way restrictions are generally complied with, but speed limits are not.

Firstly the changes in speeding law. Many are aware, and not least the habitual speeder, that most existing speed cameras cannot be used effectively, or even kept full of film, because of insufficient police resources. Money from fines goes direct to the Treasury and cannot be used to fund the system. This is almost certain to change. Several trial areas are allowed to use ‘hypothecation’, whereby money collected in fines can be used to fund the system. In Northamptonshire in the first eight months of the trial, the number caught speeding increased from some 5,000 to 50,000. Extra civilian staff have been employed, cameras always have film, and fatalities have been halved. These, and results in other trial areas, have reduced speeding and collisions even more than expected. A full report on all the trial schemes is expected soon with, hopefully, a national implementation of hypothecation to follow.

Secondly, ‘decriminalisation’ of certain classes of parking offence may mean local authorities will be able to employ staff to issue parking tickets. This is already happening in some London Boroughs. Again, money collected in fines can be used to pay staff.

Finally we come to proposed changes in road traffic penalties.

For serious offences not justifying imprisonment, more use of such measures as forfeiture of vehicles and community service orders will be available. In addition, after disqualification for a substantial period, re-qualification as for a new driver would be required, and subsequent penalty points may remain on a licence for six rather than three years. A new offence of ‘higher level of alcohol’ should be available, with longer disqualification, an extended retest, and a full medical, before the offender would be allowed to drive again.

For all lesser offences more use will be made of retraining. These schemes, which are a recent introduction, will be made widely available. Courts will be able to offer, at the offenders expense, the option of retraining, in exchange for a reduction in penalty points imposed. As well as conventional training, graphic films of collisions may be shown, and discussions held with victims of accidents. Research has shown this to be very effective at reducing re-offending in many classes of offenders.

The ‘points’ system is also to be changed with 20 points (rather than 12) required for disqualification, but more points awarded for most offences.

You may have read critical comments in certain sections of the press regarding changes to speeding penalties. In one third of collisions speed is a significant factor, resulting in some 1,100 deaths per year and research has shown that with a 1 mph reduction in average speed, collisions are reduced by 5%. Many speeding offences are dealt with by fixed penalty and currently four such offences could be committed in a three year period before a licence would be forfeited.

The new system will have two tiers, with the higher having a standard £90 fine and 12 penalty points for example, for drivers who exceed a 60 mph limit by 25 mph. Police still have powers to refer to Court more serious offences which may then result in immediate disqualification. These changes will mean many offenders will find themselves at risk of disqualification for a second speeding offence. It will also mean that processing the large increase in detected offenders following the nation-wide introduction of the ‘hypothecation’ principle should be possible.

Another change is that local authorities should be able to issue fixed penalty notices for infringement of bus lanes, either directly or from camera evidence.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign has written to the Home Office welcoming the proposed changes, but has requested in particular that the changes relating to bus lanes should also apply to cycle lanes.

I hope that all the above changes are speedily introduced and that it results in a significant reduction in danger to all road users, and pedestrians and cyclists in particular.

Jim Chisholm

The Cambridge Evening News reported on 17 February that more than 10,000 motorists broke the speed limit in a single week on Barnwell Road, the road which links the Coldham’s Lane roundabout near Sainsbury’s and Newmarket Road. The data was obtained by the police using rubber strips on the road surface in August last year. A speed camera is to be installed in Barnwell Road in April. This helps counter the argument that cyclists break the law in Cambridge more often than motorists!